Original Content Bought and Sold. Chapter 42, Arc 3

MyNameMeansBentNose

Well-known member
Writer
#1
Well, I know for sure at least one person saw it coming. Enjoy the chapter!

I've got a races document started, but it's still incomplete. You can see what I've done thus far >Here< but it's still more relevant to earlier chapters.

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Previous | Beginning | Technology | Wiki | Next
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Chapter 42
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“A… moment of your time?” He asked the Human.

Strider had been heading for the exit of the Melting Pot. At his call, the Human stopped moving and faced the bird. “What do you need?”

He smoothly pulled a memory chit from a pocket hidden on his harness under his feathers. In one smooth motion, he’d placed the knuckle-sized object in the Human’s palm. “If you’re interested in new work with better pay, follow the instructions. We’ve got some real interesting… perks too.”

Strider looked at the information chit and quietly stuffed it into a band on his wrist. With a small insincere smile, he answered. “Interesting. I’ll consider it,” the Human quietly replied.

He tapped his beak a couple times with pleasure and nodded before heading for the bar while the Human headed for the exit. Strider was probably going to carefully report him and his advertisements. Humans got lazy with their expressions when they were around other races for too long. They often fell prey to the few who knew how to read a Humans natural reactions and tics.

But that was fine, several patrons had already marked him anyways. He continued handing out the little advertisements and making friendly small talk. The smart ones already knew there was someone else in this bar waiting to see how everyone reacted. Veprutasian decoy tactics were common enough. But he could feel more eyes turning his way. After passing one last chit to an orange and white Kashto, he vacated the bar. He didn’t miss the way the Ytheon bouncer watched him as he went. He knew very well who that bouncer was.

Now came the fun part. There was simply no possibility of Piderby or Crawk leaving him to just go do whatever he wanted. There would be someone after him. Someone to capture him perhaps, or maybe to just go prying for information before killing him. He looked forward to seeing who they would send.

Now, he could force the issue by approaching one of the transport tubes. There wouldn’t be anyone here to prevent one of Red Tail’s faction from dragging him into an alley in full view of the public. But then the game would be over far too quickly.

Instead, he wandered the open streets, following the public paths until he was into one of the darker corners of the area. And he could hear it, his augmented senses allowing him to pick up on the subtle sounds his pursuer was giving away from above. He only barely resisted clicking his beak with pleasure. This might be a bigger catch than expected.

He turned down a nice dark alley and waited. He didn’t have to wait long.

He was in the midst of inspecting the talons of his wingfingers, not that he expected to find anything wrong with them.

To the credit of the pursuer, he realized right away that it was a trap. Unfortunately, he realized too late.

“You… you waited for me.”

“I certainly did! [Stand Still and remain silent],” Hatherkey ordered, then he said it again in his own natural speech before continuing.

The captive struggled and squeaked, his efforts to deny the slave package only rewarding him with nasty spikes of pain and the seizing up of his extremities. It was already far too late to do anything to save himself though.

“This will only take a moment,” Hatherkey crooned as the two talons on his augmented wingarm sparked while he reached for the datajack on the back of the slaves head. It took him a moment to find it past his natural covering.

“It is too bad for you and your friends, but I couldn’t have asked for a better catch!”

A strangled wheeze was the only answer the captive could give. Hatherkey touched the datajack and the connection was established. Then he plugged the cable in to confirm his authority. Effortlessly, as always, he was into the administrative side of the package. From here, any newt could do as they wished.

In the weeks to come, this new slave would serve Hatherkey very well.

It was good to be... Superior.

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Present day - Webalin
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It was as clear to Webalin as it was to anyone who worked there that the warehouse didn't operate within legal means. But never was it quite so clear as today. First was a shutdown of any possible offsite communication. Not many of the workers here had reason to call someone at home, but a couple of the Kashto workers had been crushed to find they couldn't talk to their mates.

Then that odd shuttle had arrived. He hadn’t seen anyone come out, but then, he wasn’t outside all that much normally. But whispers of red-backed Monos had come from the other Kraltnin lifting fork controllers. Small equipment operation was a common form of employment for Kraltnin, they were good at judging short range distances for themselves and things on which they rode. So it was often them that drove around the machines that did the heavy lifting.

So, one strange shuttle, and the armoured stock transport hadn’t left either, it remained at the dock, its hold empty.

Then various boxes had been designated to leave out, some of which were normally kept in the restricted lock-up. Webalin had personally brought a grav pallet of supplies to the dock. And now he was doing so again. He rode the ledge of the carrier as it floated through the warehouse, careful to watch for stray traffic of unexpected visitors. There were far too many here who were sensitive to the trouble on the ground. Webalin passed through one of the lesser bay doors to the collection of goods collected outside.

A bunch of mercenaries were standing just outside the bay door. Monos, Veprutasian, Kashto. Basically what Webalin understood to be the usual choices. And they were armed! He froze for a moment, but another Kraltnin floating by on a much larger grav fork with a crate on the forks of his machine reminded Webalin that there was work to do.

Careful to keep his stance neutral and his eyes from focusing on anything in particular for too long, Webalin guided himself to the drop off point. He brought the grav lift down and pulsed the controls to release. A small ‘k-chunk’ announced the activation and he commanded the little platform he was riding backwards. The two pincer struts drew back from the slotted pallet and he turned the machine around to drive himself back inside for the next order. He sent a mental request to the warehouse dataspace for his next assigned task.

Then the warehouse space shifted to limited mode. Something was interfering with the dataspace!

He wasn’t the only one to hesitate, but while the space was on limited mode, the order to shift product locations didn’t falter. With more than a little trepidation, Webalin continued his work. Several minutes later and the stack outside was looking almost like a barrier. He was just setting another crate down when he spotted the new visitor coming in, a typical looking Ortox Torp Shuttle. A shuttle that by all considerations, shouldn’t be here.

The command arrived, [workers inside, temps outside].

Webalin got tied up as he overcorrected on his grav carrier, catching the corner of one heavy box with the one mounted on his lift. In his haste, he had throttled the power up as well and the unexpected impact sent him tumbling from the floating platform. He scrambled back to his feet, pushing himself back up with his tail. He turned his eye on the shuttle as he sprinted for the warehouse, wondering just what sort of trouble would require so much preparation and attention. He was outside just long enough to see what was coming.

The Ytheon was one thing, the humans were a surprise. But the Green! Webalin’s feet stopped moving as he stared. A Green? Kraltnin came in that colour? Webalin had… had heard of Red Tail, but he’d only ever known of the Black Alphas outside of that.

His body seized up for a moment as his implant sparked a series of nerves in his spine. Webalin, newly reminded, scampered back to the warehouse.

A Green! He had to tell the others.

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Mike
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Crawk rushed out before them, firing bolts of plasma from the big underslung cannon of his. It spat plasma towards the Retidin warehouse and the workers who had come out to fight. Most of them had taken cover behind concrete barriers and stacked crates. In fact, it looked like they had purposefully left the obstructions out to slow the attack.

What worried Mike more was that they were outnumbered, and this warehouse was supposed to be a staging point for military hardware. It didn’t take much imagination to guess these guys would have something nastier on hand.

He took aim and squeezed off a couple shots from his rifle. A bird took a bullet in the head and went down. The shuttle was throwing pulse rounds, Crawk and Demail were firing plasma and both of those made a lot of visual noise across opposing d-fields. He and Daniel were using the distraction of the flashy arcing of the energy weapons to take careful shots with their own kinetic weapons.

That irked Mike, that he now thought of them differently. Once upon a time, a gun was just a gun. Now he had to think of them as ‘kinetic’ and it bothered him.

Crawk continued walking and shooting, his heavier d-field, with the linked fields of Tank, Daniel and Mike, absorbing everything coming his way.

The shuttle in which they had arrived used it's ‘small’ close support turrets to suppress the defenders. The heavier pulse weapons of the shuttle fragmented barricades and crates. Another crate packaged turret went up in smoke and fragments. Crawk pushed forwards towards cover, his command to follow arriving in their heads as he acted.

“We aren’t going to get in trouble for the shuttle weapons are we?” Mike sent as he squeezed off another couple rounds on the run.

“The reaction should be slow with the interference,” Crawk replied, his mental voice deceptively calm. “A useful ally, the Mother.”

They arrived at the crates and Crawk momentarily discarded his cannon. He reached down and grabbed the crate before him. He heaved it up and hucked it at the closest opponent. The Monos in the line of fire panicked, his eyes opened wide. The brute reached out with one of his lower arms, grabbing a crate to pull himself out of the way. It half worked. His backfeet moved and he dragged himself partially out of the line of fire, only for the crate to strike his hind quarters.

“Holy shit dude,” Daniel swore out loud.

Crawk put his hands on another crate but apparently found it too heavy to toss like the last one. He satisfied himself with giving it an almighty shove to roll the thing out of the way. The five of them sheltered in the new cover. Tank put a foot on the side of another crate and flipped it out of the way.

Crawk was a seasoned pro with the combat space. Mike had always thought it was a bit like a game when Otto ran it, Crawk was only reinforcing that impression. The black Ytheon was sharing the usual sensory information, but Mike was also aware of what direction everyone was looking at, even highlighting which of them was aiming at what enemy. He also had a read on the levels of everyone's personal d-field modules. Mike knew Tank’s module was the second coolest, after Crawk of course. He knew that Demail actually had his off while hiding within the field of everyone else. Mike himself and Daniel were the ones most likely to lose their fields first as long as they continued to hold the overlapping deviation field.

As Daniel took his place he stopped shooting to try and inspect for anything useful in a couple of the open crates. He pulled out a d-field beacon almost right away. “I think we can use this!” Daniel said with a smile as he plugged a cable from his harness into the device.

“Okay so the Mother is keeping these guys from calling for reinforcements,” Mike repeated to be sure, “but isn’t someone going to report the noise to the cops or whatever?”

“A good question,” Tank noted, firing his plasma rifle overtop of the crates.

“My boss has already solved that problem,“ Demail explained, fully confident of his answer.

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Cliffside Enforcement and Insurance, Alerts Incoming
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Deep in the Cliffside station, at the enforcement and insurance corporate headquarters, A pair of Veprutasians were throwing dice onto the playing field of their little game board. The station was divided into multiple sections in terms of security observation. Each section had its own pair of insurance and security surveillance operators with their own dedicated office.

There was no need for that really, an AI could likely do most of the appropriate work with oversight from a couple of trained individuals. Everyone knew this. But then one would be taking the living component out of the process. So much of Veprutasion society depending on bribes for smooth operation.

The little office was lined with monitors surrounding the two Veprutasians ‘busy at work’. One of those monitors started beeping, the display suddenly outlined in bright orange.

The first of the officers waved at the monitor, his wireless connection allowing him to disable the alarm with a thought.

“What was that?” The second officer asked. Throwing his dice and missing the placement target on the board. This game depended on both physical placements as well as the point result on the dice.

“Nothing,” was the short response, the voice of the first bird annoyed by the good result of his opponent.

Cheerful with the result of his roll, the second bird teased the first, “You’re not gonna beat that, also, you didn’t tell me about that one, you know the deal.”

The first clicked his beak. He had forgotten to warn his partner. They had an understanding of course. They would share Chack’s bribes as a matter of course, but he did have a bad habit of not forwarning his partners. “Which day would you like off?”

“Two days from now I would like to take a chick out for dinner, maybe a visit to a high spec simulator.”

“Euuuugh… fine, I’ll cover the day.”

Negotiations complete, the Ritadin warehouse alert went ignored.

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Mike
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They had taken cover within the largest pile of crates after Crawk had… excavated a spot. There were about twelve of the xenos still shooting at their group, as far as he could count. That was eight less than at first, but now things were getting intense. Mike peeked over the box to look at one group of four that was being the most troublesome on the right. Tank and to some extent, Crawk, were suppressing the opponents on the left.

This warehouse was a staging point for military gear and supplies, although as far as he could tell, maybe it was a smaller player? It was still enough for the two Monos, single Veprutasian and Kashto to set themselves up some nice cover. They had found a deviation field beacon, like Mike remembered them using back on the Manifestation ship. With the device set up on a tripod in the center of their formation, those four were fending off any incoming plasma or pulse rounds long enough to set up a couple more beacons. Thanks to that, the weapons of the support shuttle couldn’t quite drill through and take out the defenders within. A Monos with a heavy two-handed gun took aim and fired at the cover Mike was hiding behind.

Mike ducked as pulse rounds knocked chunks off the crates directly in front of him. Crawk grunted as a piece of shrapnel sunk into his shoulder. Getting shot at was getting old. A couple days vacation would be nice. One where they didn’t have to keep an eye out for people looking to mess him up.

Maybe he’d borrow that simulator of Otto’s and take Stacey ‘out’ for a date.

Daniel slapped the control pad of a second deviation beacon he had found in their own pile of crates. That made two thus far. There was a reason to aim at the hard cover just outside the range of the d-field. With so many defenders and the gear at hand, the current fight was devolving into a stalemate, and they knew it. Crawk had expected it. Tank was taking shots at anyone else who put their head up with his own weapon, doing his best to cooperate with Crawk to focus fire.

“Demail?” Crawk asked over the shared comm. “Progress?”

“Interesting that you would ask,” The Veprutasian replied.

The shared space opened up. The crow had hijacked the enemy signal.

The very next thing to happen was their support changing targets. The guns of the shuttle turned and opened fire on the other supposedly empty shuttle parked next to them. The Monos exited the shuttle with all haste. Mike knew they were Monos from the moment they appeared in the space thanks to Demail’s hijacking. Their surprise spoiled, the new enemies scrambled for cover on the pier, taking wildly inaccurate shots with their pulse rifles.

It had surprised no one that there were more fighters in the last ship, but it did surprise Mike that those idiots thought the surprise would work. In any case, they had been waiting for Demail’s infiltration before using some of the consumables.

Mike and Daniel sent their alerts simultaneously. “Grenades out!”

Mike threw a pulse grenade at the group of four he’d had his eyes on. Daniel threw a fragmentation grenade at the group piling out of the shuttle. Such a simple weapon, and one no one thought about using if it wasn’t turret based because they couldn’t throw for shit.

Mike’s pulse grenade hit the field, dumping all the energy within at once. The field popped and the poor suckers within froze in surprised fear. Crawk had been waiting on that. His cannon ripped through the two Monos and the Kashto. The Veprutasian had dropped his rifle, freeing up his arms to fly into the air. Mike’s rifle found its mark and the crow went down in a puff of feathers.

The group to suffer the fragmentation grenade had scattered in fearful surprise when the little object had detonated. Two Monos had taken the brunt of the explosion. One stumbled sideways off the walkways and fallen from the pier into empty space. The other lay on the ground unmoving. Two of eight down, four pushed ahead, two of them had to be shaken out of their shock before they also moved.

The guns of their shuttle pounded into the deviation fields of the Monos making for the warehouse. Those Monos did what they could to fire back at them, but being in motion fouled up their aim. Going back to their shuttle was a bad idea, it was powered down, but Mike could still see sparks and what looked like the beginnings of a fire from the small vessel.

“The transport capture goes well,” Crawk noted. Their current leader was keeping tabs on Otto’s progress in the bigger docked ship.

“Good to know!” Mike replied, grabbing a second orb from his belt. “Throwing grenade!”

He whipped the grenade at the Monos from the shuttle as they grouped up behind some cover. Mike hadn’t missed the other defenders either splitting up, taking beacons where they could, or ducking back into the building. The shared field of the Monos popped and Crawk didn’t miss that chance either. The crates the Monos hid behind might have absorbed the heat and energy of a normal plasma weapon, but Crawk’s cannon almost instantly melted holes right through the cover.

“I will be taking this,” Tank announced, grabbing one of the d-field beacons with his tail while Daniel worked on a third. Tank took it and charged off to the side, intending to take down a pair of Veprutasians and a Kashto hiding on that side.

“Your… ‘pulse grenades’ are very useful,” Crawk admitted with a tone of appreciation.

“Yeah, they pop the power feed on the d-field generator before it can distribute the heat away,” Daniel explained. Mike’s younger brother had dropped to a lower crouch as he popped the magazine from his rifle, tossing the empty cartridge off the dock and into space. He smoothly popped in the next magazine and stood up to resume firing at anyone who left squishy bits out in the open.

Tank reached the group of Veprutasians, unflinching as the group couldn’t bust down the field of the beacon Tank was carrying. The closest Veprutasian tried to jump and fly up into the air, but was too slow. Tank sprang up and grabbed the leg of the poor bird. As Tank came back down he yanked on that leg, smashing the Veprutasian downwards into the second. With both his partners suddenly out of action, the Kashto turned to run and Tank let him go.

Then things changed again. And again.

Four of their Tak’tin allies exited the transport, Otto and the remaining two staying inside to continue neutralizing the vessel. On the warehouse side, six new signals joined the dataspace. Two them, very big.

“Scatter!” Crawk commanded.

Mike and Daniel vaulted forward over the crates towards the still confused Monos. Demail actually hopped backwards over the barricade that was meant to prevent anyone from falling off the dock. The Veprutasian dropped his rifle from his wing hands, catching it in is feet, then spread his wings wide to take flight out of sight.

Crawk moved sideways, weighed down by the heavy gear he was carrying.

The forewarning of Demail’s signal hijacking saved them. Massive plasma rounds burst through the warehouse walls and tore through the d-field they had been sheltering within. The two beacons popped and fizzled as the components overheated.

As the brothers ran their fields struck the field of another beacon and started warping and sparking where they touched, the strongest interference at the edges of the contact. Daniel picked up beacon emitter they were running past, fumbling to jam a cord from his harness into the main unit. If they wanted the beacon to cooperate with them, he needed to run his auto-hack on it. “This fucking tingles like crazy!” Daniel shouted as he worked, his arm sticking through the warping border of the fields.

Mike held his limb mounted shield forward, taking more shots at the Monos as they charged in. The return fire fizzled off their own fields and Mike’s shield. Daniel finished up with the beacon, and the field snapped back to the proper dome shape as they ran.

Two more rounds of plasma blasted out, one aiming for Crawk, and one aiming for the brothers. The extra beacon didn’t do them any good, and in fact, did the opposite of help. The field, now shared between the beacon and the shoulder mounted modules the brothers carried, popped. All three emitters went with it. Mike was suddenly thrilled they had decided to bring the limb mounted shields though. Daniel tossed the beacon aside and they continued running down the long dock towards the remaining Monos soldiers. Mike’s kinetic rifle and good aim had brought down two more, leaving just four of them.

The Tak’tin who had come out were much quicker on their multiple feet, and the armour didn't hold them back. The suits of armour the bugs wore came with built-in jump jets, propelling the Tak’tin forward much quicker than Mike or Daniel could match. Two of them dashed ahead in an incredible sprint. It was clear the Tak’tin were masters of this particular technology. Two of them reached the Monos and went to work.

One Monos caught the scythe limbs of the first Tak’tin with his own arms and reared back onto only his hind limbs. Before he had a chance to pummel the Tak’tin with his lower arms, a shot from Daniel struck the Monos in the shoulder, causing the brute to let go. A scythe took his head off along with the intervening arm in the next moment.

An alert pinged and the brothers dropped. Crawk himself also jumped. The cannon rounds missed their targets. Crawk had timed the rate of fire from the weapons inside the warehouse. Multiple bay doors across the face of the warehouse began to slide open.

“I thought they couldn’t use bigger weapons?” Mike asked over the connection.

“Their call of help went unanswered, so they upped the stakes,” Demail answered.

“Can we up the stakes?” Daniel asked.

“As soon as Otto has the ship under his control,” Crawk answered.

The doors of the warehouse had opened far enough for four of those signals to come out. Four Veprutasians snuck out and took to the air, all of them wearing what looked like powered armour. Their bodies were covered by thick armour and even their wings were encapsulated by armoured limbs.

The armour was somewhat plain in nature, all of it black with silver trim and red lights. It did have a design of overlapping plates, making it look almost like snakeskin across broad sections of composite or metal. Aside from the colouring and imprint, it had very little physical detailing and ornamentation. It was purpose-built to keep a Veprutasian protected by armour, not for the sake of making them look fancy or impressive.

Small gun mounts on their shoulders and legs swivelled as they took aim. With the far Monos occupied by the Tak’tin, Mike and Daniel pivoted their shields to face the two armoured Veprutasians closest to themselves, and just in time. Plasma rounds struck the shields throwing sparks away from the brothers. Mike took a couple of shots at the closest Veprutasian past the rim of his shield. The impact of the bullets caused the bird to flinch, but the armour only came out with a few new pits.

The last shots had emptied Mike’s magazine. “Reloading,” he told Daniel, ejecting the empty cartridge.

Daniel pulled a second grenade and threw it at the armoured Veprutasian as his partner joined up. The d-field popped as normal and a much bigger gun swatted one of the birds out of the air. The support shuttle had taken aim and fired just as the field went down. It was coincidental, but Daniel still shouted out in satisfaction. “Fuck yeah!”

Mike slammed the next cartridge in and toggled the gun to full auto. He took a knee, steadied his rifle and let it rip on the second bird. As he did so, he thanked the aiming support. Almost the full magazine slammed into the bird. The only shots Mike missed happened because all those bullets drove the bird physically backwards through the air. A few went through the armour along one side, damaging the bird's shoulder as well as the wing of the armour. He flopped sideways and fell to the ground.

Another alert, the brothers jumped away from each other. But the cannon rounds didn’t go their way. The two Tak’tin who had gone ahead of them were blown to bits, along with the last Monos, all three of them blasted apart by the cannon round.

The other cannon has missed Crawk again, and the two Tak’tin who’d stayed with the Ytheon were coming down from the air. One Tak’tin had managed to split the body of a Veprutasian in half. The other had missed his target, the second bird flying high to take himself out of range.

The warehouse doors finished opening and two big tanks floated forwards. Like most any other vehicle, it hovered a couple feet above the ground, but otherwise, it did look much like what Mike would expect a high tech floating tank to look like. The main body was hexagonal and sloped and quite broad with small details like a sensor antenna sticking out from the back and a visible window in the front of the body. The turret was a round pod with a large mantlet on the front. The barrel of the tank was long and square rather than round, with its own square slotted muzzle. A gun pod on the top of the turret of the closet tank swivelled to take aim on the brothers. The far tank took aim At Crawk

The closest tank took aim at the shuttle. A bunch of the workers came out, flanking the tanks. Mike could clearly see how awkward they were, unfamiliar with the guns they were holding. More than a few of them were flinching for no obvious reason, making it clear they were fighting with their implants.

“[Stand Down]!” Tank ordered. “[Drop your weapons!]”

Many of the workers did so without hesitation, dropping to the ground. Mike didn’t miss the looks a few of the white Kraltnin gave Tank in return.

But the big hover tank didn’t seem to like that, it’s turret swivelled to take aim on the Green. The deviation field of the tank lit up as the Tak’tin shuttle fired upon it, but the bigger vehicle had a better field. The other tank took aim at the shuttle itself.

A pair of shots rang out, flying through the air with a sizzle. The field of the shuttle rippled and Tank jumped forward out the way upon receiving Crawk’s timed alert.

The brothers charged forward, Their shields juddering from the impacts of the small pulse gunpod on top of the turret. The shields wouldn’t hold long enough and cover wouldn’t do them any good. There was no promise they could get back to the shuttle in time either. Crawk had the same idea, himself charging for the same tank, albeit slower. His field arced as shots from the second tank slammed into it.

“Ha!” Daniel shouted. “‘Nade out!” he sent over the comms as he tosses it at the closest tank. A pair of pits on the front of the tank lit up, small lasers lancing out to poke the grenade. It blew up in midair, a blast of plasma causing a small gust of wind as the brothers approached. The nearby workers scattered.

The brothers arrived and slid under the tank

“Blast charge?” Daniel asked.

“Fuckin’ rights,” Mike answered. They pulled the sticky grenades from the belts and slapped them onto the lower hull of the tank.

Crawk peeled off when he heard their alert, heading for his tank instead. His own d-field was overheating though. Mike and Daniel rolled out from the tank in opposite directions. Mike didn’t roll as far as he might have liked with the shield on his harness limb. The thing also wasn’t strong enough to push him up off the ground, so he couldn’t pull any fancy moves. Disgusted with his distracted state of mind, Mike pushed up onto his feet and ran a few more steps with his shield behind him.

The blast took a huge chunk out of the tank, then a couple more explosions followed the moment after. Disabled, the tank dropped to the ground, the little gunpod on top now silent.

Finally Otto completed the capture of the large transport. The guns of the larger opened up. A heavy thump of plasma struck the first tank, then another, then another.

For a moment, everyone was silent.

“Surrender now, and no one else will die,” Crawk ordered. The remaining mercenaries threw down their guns.

-----
Minmint
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“It is far too strange,” Aurula complained again. “This is past rude and now making me worried.”

“We’re with you,” Tsury replied, clearly trying to be reassuring while not so reassured herself.

Minmint wasn’t as familiar with Leralin habits, but even she was bothered by the strangely focused attention Aurula was getting.

Back on the Silianiscan shuttle, or back in their own apartment, and even back at the Manifestation crash site, the four of them had never really remained close. They were fine being friendly or working together, but being in a clump and chatting was not something they did. Stacey and Tsury perhaps, but not herself, and not Aurula.

Tsury had started it. While the young green girl was always unlikely to spend any amount of time close to Aurula, all of a sudden she had taken on a different tack. Stacey had joined in as if it was only natural. Minmint recognized it as being similar to how red striped female Kraltnin would act. They stuck together for the sake of security, and Lopulm was a threat to Aurula. So Minmint had decided to remain close with the other three females.

And Lopulm had indeed hovered, seemingly insistent on finding and talking to Aurula by herself. Which had Aurula on a cliff’s edge. It was clear to all of them that Aurula was bothered by Lopulm’s attention, and even admonishment from Oriashka hadn’t done much to change his actions.

The men had been gone for several hours, but that wasn’t unexpected. They’d predicted about an hour to visit Chack, a few hours visiting the ship Red Tail had connected them to, and then the attack on the warehouse would happen. So they waited in the workshop, the remaining gadgets they’d brought with them scattered around. A couple of spears and plasma rifles, A back up kinetic gun in case one of the others was damaged. Several grenades and a couple plasma weapons.

They were actually playing cards as they sat, Stacey came to a decision and laid down a pair of black sevens.

The main door of the workshop opened and Red Tail stepped through. Minmint felt her tail curl in annoyance but quickly pushed the feeling away. Tanktantun wasn’t even here right now.

She was imposing as always, standing taller than any other Kraltnin Minmint had known. Narula's hide glittered in the light where there were patches of ruby coloured scales.

At the same time, Lopulm entered from the far door.

“You are back from your mission?” Lopulm asked.

“Yes, it went quite well, Hatherkey’s response was weaker than I expected,” Red Tail answered worriedly. A pair of white Kraltnin followed her into the room, then the Kashto, Luren arrived next.

Red Tail walked to a far bench and began shedding her harness with Luren’s help.

“Well there’s a good reason for that,” Lopulm answered as he approached Red Tail.

“Oh?” she asked, eye membrane down as she ducked her head to pull a strap off.

“Yes, Hatherkey was on his way here,” Lopulm answered, firing a palm-sized gun at Red Tail.

“NNgggg-yeeaahh,” Nualula cried out as the projectile hit her. Her body shook as an unexpected current ran through it. Lopulm strode up and struck her with a second and Red Tail fell to the ground as the shock ran through her.

“[Everyone remain still],” a voice called out. Then the voice emitted a strange hissing, a sibilant line of speech that Minmint had no frame of reference for. The translator didn’t even try to make sense of it. Everyone froze.

A Veprutasian walked into the room, wearing a simple suit of armour and a harness collar around his neck much like the one Otto used. It was only partial body armour, his wings were still bare, but it did cover most of his extremities. Minmint could barely move, she quickly realized she was frozen in fear. She looked at Stacey, Tsury and Aurula and realized that none of them could move at all. Tsury did finally move, but her body seized up and she flopped to the ground, wracked by a familiar sort of seizure.

“Oh no…” Stacey whispered, watching the blackbird. “How?”

“[Do not speak],” the bird ordered next, then spoke that hissing language again.

Lopulm collected Nualula’s arms and tail, pulling them together and wrapping a strange long rope around the limbs behind Red Tail’s back. “Sorry, I don’t have much of a choice, most of the base is already his,” Lopulm admitted. His voice was dead, void of emotion.

Minmint understood. It was the implant. He was manipulating their implants! That’s why Red Tail had to be zapped…

But Lopulm hadn’t realized that Minmint herself wasn't implanted. She only had the partial translator implant which belonged to the Psioxern. She had never made the decision to get the full implant. Lopulm had seen a typical Kraltnin female and hadn’t even checked. She considered her options. There were three doors in and out of this room. One was behind her, although it was just a storage room for supplies. The other two doors were the ones Nualula had come in, then the opposite door Lopulm and Hatherkey had entered from.

Minmint grabbed the kinetic rifle on the table, snatching up a magazine at the same time. She slammed the magazine into the gun and took aim. Even as she did so, more Veprutasians and Kashto were entering the room, but she only had one chance at this.

Lopulm looked up in surprise. The black Veprutasian seemed startled as well. “You don’t have an implant!” he realized.

Minmint pulled the trigger, riddling Hatherkey’s body with bullets. At first, she hit his body and the armour protected the Veprutasian. But the recoil of the weapon caused it to rise and several bullets made very short work of the bird’s head. She then jumped backwards falling through the storage room door. Plasma rounds zipped past her, a few smacking into the wall. But she was able to slap the control pad of the door with her tail, causing the door to shut behind her.

That was where she would stay.

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End Chapter
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